Downhill Mountain Biking and the Mining Museum

Justine had an old University friend in town this weekend. Graham lived out here in BC until recently, when he headed back to Toronto with his job. He had just really gotten into mountain biking before he left, and so on this work trip he decided he wanted to do some downhill riding at Whistler. So we headed up to Whistler to join him for the weekend.

As Justine had seriously sprained her ankle a few of weeks ago, she had to bail on the biking  Graham and I booked into a lesson for the day, which ended up being a great idea. We had a full day on the mountain, and I learned a lot that made me a much better rider. 

A screen shot from the day's riding at Whistler. I think the GPS killed my phone on either the second last run we did, so there was actually a couple more runs than what is shown here.

I did pretty good, despite the two of them pushing the pace pretty fast. I only had one real major wipeout, for which I am sporting some pretty good bruises. Seems that I'm not ready to tackle the Technical Black Diamond runs just yet. 

After calling it a day, Justine and i soaked in the hottub at the Fairmont, where we were staying. We had a couple of pre-dinner drinks in our room, before heading back into the Village for dinner. We had a very fun evening that lasted until well after midnight.

The next morning was a bit of a late on as we slept off the night's festivities. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and headed back home.  

On every trip up to Whistler, we drive by the BC Mining Museum at Britannia Beach. As we were heading home with no real time pressures for a change, we decided to stop in at the Museum and do the tour. 

A shot of the BC Mining Museum from the hill overlooking Britannia Beach.

The Britannia Mine Museum sits on the site of the now defunct Britannia Copper Mine, which as we learned from the excellent video in the entrance building, was once the biggest copper mine in the British Commonwealth, and at its peak was producing 17% of the world's copper supply. There's over 200 km of tunnels within the mine which operated from the early 1900s, through to 1974 when it was finally shut down. It employed over 2,000 people at its peak, and there were two separate towns that supported the mining operations, both of which are now essentially gone. Up until the 1950's, the two town sites were completely isolated, with only boat access to take supplies and people to and from the site. It must have been a very different way of life.

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Once the mine was shut down, it became an environmental disaster - leaching heavy metals into Howe Sound for decades before the Mining Industry and the Government stepped in to install a water treatment facility, do some major clean up of the mine site, and turned the old mine into the museum. They did an amazing job; the buildings and displays looks amazing, the tour they take you on is very engaging, and the place looks amazing.

We spent a little bit of time looking around the newly built interpretive center. It had lots of very cool displays, that looked at the history of mining, and put the Britannia site in some context. It's really well done and worth checking out. We then watched a 15 minute video that gives you the history of the site, which was also well done, if a bit goofy in spots. 

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After watching the movie, we headed up to the mine building to start our tour. Our very animated tour guide, Isabelle took us on a short tour inside the mine, and did a great job of bringing everything to life. The tour started with a short train ride down the tracks into the mine itself.

The train took us into the mine, down into one of the 200+ miles of tunnels at the mine site.

Once inside the mine, (not really that far in), we got off the train, and were taken into a couple of the tunnels. We were shown the various drills that were used over the decades the mines were in production, and Isabelle even fired them up briefly to demonstrate how loud they are. I have no idea how these poor men worked in these conditions.

Next we got to see some equipement in action for clearing the debris ("mud")  from the blasting. From the original shovels to more modern gear, it sill looked like an awful job.  

 The small loader that was used to scoop up the debris from blasting and remove it from the mine shaft.

The small loader that was used to scoop up the debris from blasting and remove it from the mine shaft.

The highlight for most on the people on the tour was the portable bathroom that she showed up, complete with a demonstration of the "privacy" features (blowing out the candle). After that, we were back outside, and onto a couple more of the building around the site.

 The exit from the mine, where we came out from the tour.

The exit from the mine, where we came out from the tour.

 The whistle at the mine exit that was used to signal the start and end of the shift, as well as emergencies (blown 3x).

The whistle at the mine exit that was used to signal the start and end of the shift, as well as emergencies (blown 3x).

Our next stop was the core shed, where they had core samples from the entire history of the mine. It was pretty cool to see all the different cores they had pulled out from the various mine shafts. 

 A shot of some of the cores in the core shed.

A shot of some of the cores in the core shed.

 A close up of the core samples.

A close up of the core samples.

After the core shed, we went into the main mine building, which is the big white building built onto the side of the mountain, that you see from the highway. As part of setting up the museum, they refaced the building. Inside is another story, as they have not done a lot there. It's a crazy building, with this wild staircase from the ground level up to the 8th level of the building. Wouldn't want to do those stairs.

After wrapping up the tour we wandered the grounds, checking out a couple more buildings; Justine panned for gold; and then we took off and headed home. 

The main staircase that employees would have to climb every day.